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SWE UCLA Virtual Conference Helps Over 250 Women Break Barriers in STEM

The Program Development Grant (PDG) Committee provides opportunities for Society of Women Engineers (SWE) groups to receive money to host outreach and professional development events.
woman engineer participating in a virtual conference

This article showcases an event that a SWE group hosted leveraging their PDG grant. For more information on the PDG grant process, including upcoming application deadlines, please check out the PDG website.

Over a three-day period from April 8-10, 2021, the SWE University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Collegiate Section hosted a virtual conference: “Women in STEM: Breaking Barriers.” 

The organizers wanted to create an experience and community that women in STEM could rely on during all stages of their development – from high school to a professional level. The event platform allowed participants an opportunity to make new connections and learn how to overcome some of the systemic barriers that exist within STEM. The SWE UCLA Section hopes to make this an annual event.

There were 293 attendees including 115 SWE members. Ten volunteers planned the event, and there were two SWE member volunteers at each day of the event. 

Each day of the virtual conference lasted from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm and catered to a specific audience: 

  • Day 1 – Undergraduate and graduate students
  • Day 2 – Post-graduate professionals
  • Day 3 – Middle school, high school and G.E.D. students.

Many accomplished women in STEM spoke at the conference and shared their experiences. The keynote speaker was Dr. Andrea Ghez (2020 Nobel Laureate in physics, astrophysicist and UCLA professor) who discussed her path in STEM. 

Sessions included “Offer Negotiations,” “Exploring Careers in STEM,” “Graduate School Success,” “STEM is Crazy Delicious” (with engineer-turned-food blogger Samira Kazan), and “Personal and Professional Priorities for Women.” 

Each day included a “Tea Time” and a segment called “Let’s Talk About Intersectionality.” A virtual community room gave attendees the opportunity to ask questions about SWENext programming. Information on potential scholarships and available programming also was shared. 

screenshot from PDG-funded SWE UCLA virtual conference in April 2021
A screenshot from the PDG-funded “Women in STEM: Breaking Barriers” virtual conference, hosted by the SWE University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Collegiate Section.

A pre- and post-event survey was conducted regarding the expectations women face in STEM. Pre-survey participants generally felt STEM was not accessible to women and that they did not have a community to turn to. 

After the conference, over 90% of participants felt they had access to a greater community and tools to use within their own work environments and paths.

The SWE UCLA Collegiate Section held a “Fireside Chat” during their Women in STEM: Breaking Barriers virtual event where different members discussed the events and actions of the day.  

Here are the best practice take-aways from the virtual UCLA Collegiate Section event:

  • The planning group advised to “Start early and spread out where you look for help.”  The group believes the event was successful because it included perspectives from different fields and career stages. The information shared was applicable to a broader group of participants instead of a select few.
  • Attendees highlighted the daily community rooms, intersectionality and end of day discussions. These sessions offered a unique networking experience compared to traditional conferences or summits. Attendees felt they made connections that could be utilized later.

Are you interested in learning more about receiving PDG funding? Learn more on the PDG website.


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